“The Better Angels of our Nature”

floyd“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”—Colossians 3:12

The items on this list of human qualities seem in short supply this election year. More frequently we have seen a continual lowering of the bar of both the tone and language of political discourse. There is a coarsening of public talk on the news and social media. Spend a few minutes on Twitter and you will inevitably come across someone spewing hatred, fear, and bigotry.

The season upon us is one of name-calling, finger-pointing and fear-mongering.

I keep asking myself, “Is this who we are?” I don’t want to believe it.

The truth is, after Election Day we will have new leaders, but many of the same old problems of race and class and injustice will remain. We will still have public institutions that do not serve everyone equally. We will still have dying cities and crumbling infrastructures.

Inflammatory rhetoric will not solve these problems that affect us all, no matter what our political party.

On the brink of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln made an impassioned appeal to “the better angels of our nature.” We need to hear those words now.

God wants better from us, not to put away righteous anger or proper passion, but to model a way of living that treats others with respect and dignity.

Without that it is hard to see us moving ahead as a nation. As Dr. King once said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

Prayer: Help us, O God, by your grace, to manifest the “better angels of our nature.”

(This is my United Church of Christ Daily Devotional for September 25, 2016. To see the original go here. To subscribe to the Daily Devotional and receive it every day by e-mail go here.)

Andover Newton Theological School and “The Great Transition”

lorain-etcandover-newton(For several days this past week I have been at my alma mater, Andover Newton Theological School, at a reunion for alums. I have seen some old friends and experienced some moving addresses and worship. The school is in the process of selling its historic Newton campus and de-camping  to New Haven. CT, to become an “embedded school” within Yale Divinity School. About 165 of us alums gathered to have one last time together on “the Hill” as it has been known. I was part of a closing service that moved from place to place where we reflected and prayed before retiring to the chapel for the Lord’s Supper. I prepared the following notes, but spoke ex tempore, but these words are close to what I said. We were in front of Sturtevent Hall, and I was charged with reflecting on all the dorms, the halls and houses where we lived while we were there.)

This place was important to me. I grew and changed here, was shaped and formed here. I met my wife while I was here. I made some of the best friends I have ever had here. I had some of my most important teachers and mentors here. Three of them died within weeks of each other earlier this year and I attended their funerals: Max Stackhouse, Jerry Handspicker, and Bill Holladay.

Yes, this place was important for me, and I say “place” rather than “school” because the two always seemed inseparable. Andover Newton was “the Hill,”“the Hill” was Andover Newton.

So imagining Andover Newton not here on this hill has been for me, and I know for many of you, a difficult matter to get our minds around.

We know these brick and mortar buildings are not instrinsically holy spaces, only made holy by what took place in them from time to time.

These halls and houses that I will soon name in prayer were our homes while we were here. We lived in them, slept in them, ate and drank in them, studied in them, played and partied in them. We also laughed and cried and prayed in them.

I thought this place would always be here, as a touchstone and landmark of an important chapter in my life. A couple years ago Martha bought a brick for the walkway to honor my forty years of ministry and that felt good to me, that it should be here.

But it won’t be here, and those bricks that some of you had to collect and take home are perhaps the most poignant symbols of the loss of this place.

So it would be easy (and has been easy) for me to succumb to the narrative of the decline of the mainline church.

And by the metrics of the world that narrative makes simple sense.

But we are not the world, we are the church, and we have been here before.

We have another narrative, another story. How many times have the faithful come to what looks like a dead end?

I imagine the captives marching to exile in Babylon, who had lost their land, their king and their temple, wondering if the story was over. Is the story over?

And I imagine those standing at the foot of the cross feeling as if the story was over. Is the story over?

And those disciples on the road to Emmaus, who had such high hopes, were feeling as if the story was over. Is the story over?

When you feel you are part of God’s story, and it seems to come to an end, does that mean my story with God is over? Is the story over and I am no longer a part of it? Is that what saying goodbye to this place means?

I am here to testify (to remind you, really, because you know) that God’ story is not over.

The story that has been going on this Hill (and before it), of men and women called by God to the ministry of the church, to share the good news of God’s vast love for all in Jesus Christ, that story is not over, not by a long shot.

Will you pray with me now:

Our God, we give you thanks and praise for this day and all its blessings, and for all the many ways that you provide for us.

On this day, in this place, we thank you for all the places here at Andover Newton that have been our homes, and we name them before you: Appleton Chase House, Farwell Hall, Fuller House, Herrick House, Kendall House, Sturtevant Hall, and the former Chase House.

Though but brick and mortar these places became vessels of holy conversations, spirited discussions, sacred arguments, and blessed inspirations, as many generations of us were formed here to be your ministers.

We acknowledge before you the complexity of our many feelings as we mark our time of closure with this campus and these buildings. Mixed with our gratitude and warm memories is a sense of loss and displacement.

But we know you are a God who is always doing a new thing, and you call us forth to new paths and new journeys. As we live always between memory and hope, we rely on your kindly providence for the new journey of our school.

May the work of preparation for ministry that began at Andover and Newton so long ago, and took place here on the Hill for so long, continue in new places and new spaces as it has done so here, to further the mission and ministry of the church of Jesus Christ, and it is in his strong name that we pray. Amen.

yale

 

Ordination: “I found Fluency but not roar”

rick

Today is the forty-first anniversary of my ordination to the Christian ministry. It is hard to believe that such time has gone by.

When I was a young man I became friends with the minister and poet Arnold Kenseth. I have written about him here. But this poem of his on ordination always seem to strike the right notes of humility and awe about what it means to be a minister.

Ordination

I was anointed. A fire. Yes, I tell you.
An adazzle. His rare thump numbed me, awed
Me down to size and up to Him. Prayed, pawed
By the laying on of hands, myself anew
And aloft; I became lion to roar Him,
Eagle to lift Him, donkey to bear Him. I,
In that sunburst, languaged with seraphim,
Promised myself to be (Ha!) His emissary.

I did not, friends, manage much. True, I found
Fluency, but not roar. I have been sparrow;
And though jackass as most, I could not be least
Even for Him. He was scarlet and vast
And radiant and restful. He sang such sound
I heard the earth unloose itself from sorrow.

(Arnold Kenseth, Seasons and Sceneries, Windhover Press, 2002)

“Hinge Time”

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” —Ecclesiastes 3:1

northern-lightsSeptember always feels to me to be a new beginning. It marks time like a turning hinge, from summer to fall, from then to now, and from now to “what now?”

September’s cool weather reminds me of one memorable day back in 1982. We lived in Maine on a farm. We had a new baby, our first child, and we were in transition. I was about to take a new job and we would soon be moving to a new state. Continue reading

Rick’s Blackened Red Snapper

Red SnapperThe late great Paul Prudhomme, who died last year, brought Cajun cookery to national attention with his 1984 classic Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen. His most iconic recipe was “blackened redfish.” Redfish was a humble fish that suddenly was in high demand. His recipe called for scorching high heat. I made it several times and it was delicious, but set off the fire alarms. Continue reading

“Turning the World Upside Down”

“When the mob could not find Paul and Silas, they dragged some believers before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also.’” Acts 17:6

WorldPaul and Silas got in big trouble in Thessalonica. Paul preached for several days, explaining that Jesus was the Messiah and that he had to suffer and die. Many listeners were convinced and followed them.

But there was backlash. Luke writes, “They formed a mob and set the city in an uproar.” They said, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also.”

They didn’t mean it as a compliment, but “turning the world upside down” is exactly what the Good News about Jesus did that day. Continue reading

We Glorify Your Name, O God!

TyringhamWe Glorify Your Name, O God.
C.M.

We glorify your name, O God,
Through Christ, your Word made flesh.
We worship, listen for your Word,
To hear your Good News fresh.

You gather us to be made one,
You call us each by name,
We grow in Christ, your own dear Son,
We care for each the same.

You send us forth your sheep to feed,
Your grace and gifts employ,
To share our faith by word and deed,
To spread peace, love and joy.

We teach your truth to grow the mind
Of people young and old.
To live and learn, to seek and find,
Your story must be told.

We serve our neighbors in your name,
Ones we know and others.
From near and far they’re all the same,
Our sisters and brothers.

All praise and honor come your way,
The Father and the Son.
And Holy Spirit, each new day,
Until the worlds are done.

©Richard L. Floyd, 2004

(I wrote this in 2004 based on the Mission Statement of the congregation I was serving at the time. Like many of my hymn texts it is “open,” which means it is not attached to any particular tune. It is in Common Meter and can be plugged into any C.M. tune. If you try it and like it let me know which tune you have used.

Photo: R. L. Floyd, 2016. The Appalachian Trail at Tyringham Cobble, MA)